Thursday, December 06, 2007

Courage Before Politics

Today, we have become what we were some fifty years ago. Again.

Quite frankly, it is amazing that as a nation, we have learned so little from our mistakes. World War II was the lesson we didn't learn from World War I, namely, that we couldn't merely withdraw from the world and retreat to safety behind the two great oceans that flank us. Sadly, it is all too apparent that we only learned once from those mistakes.

Once again, everyone's patriotism is under question. Once again, the government is conducting secret surveillance on many everyday citizens. Once again, we have many demagogues in our Congress, yammering away about how great a political general is, and how dare anyone criticize his actions. Once again, too many of us live in fear because the Republican Party has done its best to make us fear, to induce terror in our hearts so they can win our votes by posturing and preening as the toughest kid on the block.

Fifty years ago, it was the great salvation of this nation that during a large part of these times, we had a President in Harry Truman who, by and large, stood up to fear, stood up to bullying, and consistently did his best to do the right thing despite the fact that he lost immense political power because of it. It is the greatest insult, in fact, to have President Bush compare himself to President Truman as a president who made the right calls, was vilified in his time, and later vindicated by history.

President Truman stood up on civil rights, when he was told it would cost him re-election. Truman stood up against a political general in Douglas MacArthur, despite the fact that Congress threatened his impeachment over the matter. Truman stood up to Joe McCarthy and his ilk and defended noble public servants such Dean Acheson and General George Marshall, both true patriots, who helped save the free world from Stalin with their hard work and excellent policy. Truman made tough decisions, the right decisions more often than not, regardless of their political impact. Truman campaigned in 1948 when everyone said he was going to lose and he kicked the Republicans' asses and the Democrats retook Congress because he went out there and told the truth about the Republicans. He exposed the Republican shell game of pretending to care about the farmer and the little guy while doing the bidding of corporate America.

It is the height of arrogance for this failed President, this wretched excuse for a leader, a man who encourages and partakes in the worst parts of the gutter politics that were Joe McCarthy's trademark, to compare himself in any way to a man like President Truman. He has stood up for nothing. He has not shown political courage, merely expediency. He has stayed steadfast behind his Iraq policy because he has nothing to lose. He cannot run again for office, so it doesn't matter to him. He has not stood up for civil rights, instead, he has routinely and actively worked to deny them to us. He has instilled fear in us as a tool of manipulation to win elections for his party, and just as Democrats did in 1960 as Eisenhower was leaving office, Democrats are again trying to, in large part, out-tough the Republicans.

One thing that we have not learned as a party is how to combat false fear. We have not learned how to stand up for ourselves against demagoguery. We have not demonstrated the courage as a mass to resist a President who fights to defend himself instead of the Constitution he swore an oath upon. In 1952, we let Adlai Stevenson, who bravely stood up and spoke the truth about Republican-generated fear and smears, be crushed by Dwight Eisenhower, a man who would not stand up for his own mentor, George Marshall, because it wasn't the politically smart thing to do. Even a man with Eisenhower's standing, with all the great service he'd rendered to his nation, muzzled himself in fear of the own fear politics generated by his fellow party members.

The reason Truman won in 1948 is because he did not show fear. He didn't show fear in the face of the Soviet blockade of Berlin. He didn't show fear in the face of possibly losing Greece, Turkey, and China to Communist influence. He didn't buckle when the Soviets instigated a coup in Czechoslovakia. He didn't run off and hide when polling showed that the Democratic Party was finished, that Thomas Dewey would crush him in the election, that he was destined to leave politics as a loser. Truman stood and fought for what was right, and he told the truth in plain language.

Instead of learning our lessons, we have ignored them. We need to start standing up again and showing courage, the real courage that Truman showed, that Stevenson showed, against the worst of the smears.

Today, real courage means Congress needs to start fighting for the 70% of people who want us to get out of Iraq, and not the 30% who are going down the path Bush has laid. Real courage means ignoring the smears and fear-mongering of Republican congressmen, and insisting that the administration both account for its spending of Iraq war funding and set a deadline to end this war now. Real courage means telling the truth to Americans from the presidential stump, instead of pretending that they know what we want to hear from endless polling, focus groups, etc. Every poll, every pundit, every newspaper thought Truman would get whipped in 1948, and instead he crushed Dewey because he spoke the truth. Polls are only as good as the people who do them, and many are now rigged to tell the candidate what they want to hear.

Real courage means restoring our rights to their pre-9/11 state, not in some blind obliviousness to the world around us, but rather in a statement of our principles. What does it say about America when we would blatantly and willingly sacrifice any principle we have regarding our freedom and the freedom of the world to try and ensure a degree of "safety" that is impossible to achieve, even in a police state? Hitler ran the most brutal police state around, yet he was nearly blown up in 1944 by an army colonel of his.

This president we have, along with his administration and his enablers in Congress, does not show courage, does not demonstrate strength. Rather, they are the class bullies, hollow shells of men, who believe that instilling fear is the only way to ensure their power, since without fear, they would be exposed for the cowards they are. Only a coward resorts to the sort of actions that the Republicans have taken, actions that are rooted in the past, fifty years ago. It takes a special kind of coward to insist that his strength comes from keeping us safe from the fear that he himself has instilled in us.

No, the President and the Republican Party did not attack us on 9/11. That came from another coward who hides in caves and attacks innocents to hide his weakness from us. Mr. Bush and the Republicans, though, have taken full advantage of the actions of one coward to disguise their own cowardice. They are scared of losing their power, scared of losing control, scared of people thinking on their own and looking for the truth, because the truth will not set the Republicans free. The truth, however, will set us, the American people, free from their fear, free from their smears, free from the idea that we somehow need to fundamentally change America because a coward attacked us. We made that mistake in World War II, where thousands of Japanese were locked up because of our fear after Pearl Harbor. That fear was baseless, as is the fear that if we don't let the government spy on us in all sorts of ways, then somebody else will blow up a building or crash a plane loaded with passengers into another high-rise or use a weapon of mass destruction.

America isn't just the place we live in. America is an idea, a belief that freedom, individual liberty and rights, hard work, and tolerance can thrive and endure as the ultimate security. We did not become the strongest nation in the world by having an oppressive government, rather, it came because we believed in and acted upon the very ideals that we were founded on. America today cries out for someone who will lead us from the darkness of fear that the Republican Party has once again created, as it did some fifty years ago. It is our great misfortune that we do not have a Harry Truman or a Theodore Roosevelt to lead us now, and it is our greatest wish that one of our presidential candidates will show us that sort of courageous leadership.


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